Sunday, July 14, 2024

“BANG BANG”

THE STORY – Back in his glory days, Bernard Rozyski, better known as “Bang Bang,” was a beloved prizefighter boxer riding high on his success. These days he’s angry and closed off, living in his grungy house in a blue-collar Detroit neighborhood. When Bang Bang’s estranged daughter unexpectedly drops her troublemaking teenage son off at his doorstep, it gives the bitter old man a chance at personal redemption as he trains the potential-laden kid in the ring. Problems arise when the former champ’s past demons have other plans, forcing Bang Bang to confront everything he’s tried so hard to suppress.

THE CAST – Tim Blake Nelson, Glenn Plummer, Kevin Corrigan, Andrew Liner, Nina Arianda, Daniella Pineda & Erica Gimpel

THE TEAM – Vincent Grashaw (Director) & Will Janowitz (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 103 Minutes


There’s a reason why, out of any sport, boxing is the one that is the most consistently portrayed in film. “Raging Bull,” “The Set-Up,” and “Million Dollar Baby” are just some of what feels like an endless list that will forever continue to grow. The natural cinematic nature of boxing lends itself to the ability to be captured on screen in often unique ways meshing with a filmmaker’s unique visual style. The testosterone-filled spectacle has also been used countless times as a way to explore various themes, such as masculinity and the human psyche. On paper, it should work more times than it does, but sadly, plenty of boxing-adjacent films miss the mark. Unfortunately, Vincent Grashaw’s “Bang Bang” is one of those films, as it doesn’t leave any lasting impact despite Tim Blake Nelson’s caliber doing his best to get this film through each minute like it’s a round in an actual boxing match.

“Bang Bang” opens with the titular character (played by Nelson) manically dancing his heart away and downing a bottle of booze like water on a hot summer day. Bernard “Bang Bang” Rozyski, or as everyone calls him, “Bang,” is an older boxer filled with bitterness toward the world and is frustrated with how his life spiraled down the gutter. One day, Bang’s estranged daughter Jen (Nina Arianda) barges back into his life, leaving him in the temporary custody of his troubled grandson Justin (Andrew Liner). As Bang begins to train his grandson in the sport he cherishes, the unlikely pair not only have to find a way to get along with one another but also work at overcoming an array of emotions sitting within their souls.

Far and beyond, the greatest strength of “Bang Bang” is Nelson himself. Nelson delivers a more than watchable performance, as pitiful as he is charmfully repulsive. What inherently drives his character is a bit on the nose, but Nelson tries to make it work with his commitment to the material. Liner, who’s opposite Nelson most of his screen time, gives a solid performance, but like every other character in the film, he’s incredibly underwritten. The only other performance of note is Glenn Plummer, who plays Darnell Washington, a former boxer turned aspiring politician, forever tied to the downfall of Bang’s boxing career. There is a moment in the film involving Nelson and Plummer’s characters that’s fantastic. It’s not only the best moment of the film but also the only time Grashaw’s vision for “Bang Bang” becomes fully realized. Then, the scene, like almost every other aspect of “Bang Bang,” is dragged out beyond reason.

Grashaw’s direction comes off as inadequate, attempting to create a scuzzy Detroit-based boxing drama adjacent to the actual fighting itself. Besides Nelson’s performance, one of the more intriguing aspects of “Bang Bang” is the attempt to explore these ideas of loss and reinvention. Just like the boxing in the film, the best things in Bang’s life are behind him, even if he desperately attempts to return to the glory days vicariously through his grandson. The emphasis, though, is on the attempt because “Bang Bang” fails in its execution of exploring these concepts in a manner that isn’t the most redundant surface-level way that has already been done better in other films before it. Pat Aldinger’s cinematography, for the most part, is quite pleasing, but how the actual boxing is captured (or even staged) is nowhere as visually stimulating as it is seeing Bang roam around the various bars and streets of Detroit. The screenplay by Will Janowitz doesn’t work in almost every way. His writing leads to an unfocused hodgepodge of incomplete ideas fighting for the spotlight. Every character introduced that isn’t our protagonist is uninteresting, and Bang as a character is only made better by Nelson’s work.

Additionally, the relationships between the characters feel rushed or unearned to a degree where one even questions why viewers should bother investing their interest in it in the first place. Extended sequences of the film occur with no real clarification as to why they are included or fail to serve the purpose they were intended to achieve. For example, after a major plot point that happens towards the end of the film, Bang decides to revisit his home as a trip down memory lane. It’s more than obviously a desperate attempt to escape the world and the consequences of his actions. But what follows is an eye-rolling sequence of Bang proceeding to consume copious amounts of drugs with the new inhabitants of his previous home. There are even characters reading Bang’s Wikipedia page as a lazy way to fill audiences with exposition that, by this late in the film, is already regurgitating information that Grashaw and Janowitz already mentioned. It’s also quite ridiculous how many characters’ motivations are overtly explained to one another as the film wears its more than evident messaging on its sleeve.

All of these factors culminate into what is frankly an underwhelming viewing experience. Hearing the premise for “Bang Bang,” the prospect of seeing Nelson (one of the most undervalued character actors working today) have a moment to lead a project can feel exciting on paper. But by the time the credits roll, one can’t help but be disappointed as he tries so hard to rise above the material and fails. “Bang Bang” is as messy as its unlikeable characters. Pretty early on in the film, it’s more than evident that “Bang Bang” loses its momentum and its purpose as to why it keeps going for the rest of its uninteresting albeit brief runtime.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Tim Blake Nelson’s more than committed performance is the sole reason to watch this film even when it’s obvious he’s attempting to carry less-than-stellar material. Glenn Plummer also is great for the one scene where the film allows him to work his magic. Pat Aldinger’s cinematography delivers solid work.

THE BAD - The screenplay is bad, filled with underwritten characters, surface-level motivations, and a story that fails to achieve what it so desperately wants to. Grashaw’s direction is less than adequate creating a boxing-adjacent drama that is unmemorable in almost every way.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 4/10

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Giovanni Lago
Giovanni Lago
Devoted believer in all things cinema and television. Awards Season obsessive and aspiring filmmaker.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Tim Blake Nelson’s more than committed performance is the sole reason to watch this film even when it’s obvious he’s attempting to carry less-than-stellar material. Glenn Plummer also is great for the one scene where the film allows him to work his magic. Pat Aldinger’s cinematography delivers solid work.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The screenplay is bad, filled with underwritten characters, surface-level motivations, and a story that fails to achieve what it so desperately wants to. Grashaw’s direction is less than adequate creating a boxing-adjacent drama that is unmemorable in almost every way.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>4/10<br><br>"BANG BANG"